Tag Archives: father-daughter relationships

A memorial just as it was meant to be

My last bouquet of roses from Dad

My last bouquet of roses from Dad

I don’t know why I dreaded Dad’s memorial today, but I did. But it was perfect even in its imperfections. As I told my son tonight, Thom, everything was exactly as it was meant to be. Down to me inadvertently saying that Dad had a “big ass” smile on his face just hours before he died.

Together, my brothers and I painted quite a composite picture of Dad. Following are my remarks and in upcoming days, I’ll post theirs:

“There are many ways to look at my father’s long life. You can look at it through the lens of history. He remembered having one of the first phones in Yakima with its three-digit phone number.. You can look at it through the lens of medicine. He was a walking miracle who lived 50 years after his first heart attack. You can look at his life through the lens of professional accomplishment, a tough, smart Marine who was twice decorated with a bronze star with V for valor and who was unafraid to challenge his superior officer even when threatened with court martial.

But I think of my father’s life as a love story. He was a middle child in a difficult family. He loved his mother deeply but feared his father, who he referred to as “The Great I Am.” Dubbed “the smart one” by his family, he was accelerated in school by two years, which he said was a disaster for any young man with an interest in young women. He said he didn’t stand a chance.

My Dad was a romantic. Meant to be the family lawyer, he was in love with words. He began to devour and memorize large swaths of poetry, with favorites including Shakespeare and 19th century poets.

Then he met my mother, and the next chapter in his love story began. As my Dad told the story, it was spring of 1939 at the UW, Dad’s senior year. After drying himself out from a binge in the taproom of a local brewery where his fraternity brother worked, he seated himself in Dr. Padelford’s class on Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning whereupon he saw “this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” As my grandfather said when he met my mother, “Son, a pretty face will fade away, but a good pair of legs will last forever.”

If ever an immovable object met an irresistible force, it was my father meeting my mother. My mother, upon learning that Dad was pinned to a girl in Yakima, handed him $5 for train fare and told him not to come back until he had the pin. In 1941, after Dad had been commissioned as a second lieutenant and was stationed in Quantico, Mom sent him a cryptic telegram saying that she accepted his proposal and was heading east with her mother to get married. He swore that he had no recollection of any such proposal.

Fast forward to 1999. Though I knew of Dad’s love of poetry and Mom, I don’t think I truly understood how driven he was by love until after Mom died and his life-long confidante was gone.

At the end of Mom’s 3 ½ month illness with late stage lung cancer, at sunset on May 10, 1999, I called my father in to their bedroom after I noticed that Mom’s color had changed; while I called hospice, he held her hand, told her that he loved her and that he would be with her again. Then her heart stopped.

As we sat together in the days that followed, recollections began to spill out from him.

First he recalled Mom. As I wrote later, “In the days after my mother died, my father recalled some of their intimate moments like movie images, how she looked with the glow of moonlight on her body.” It would have been a beautiful moment were I not trying to poke my mental eye out.

Then Dad began to talk about the war, something he had rarely done before. 

But the most difficult memory he shared with me was that of the final illness of my sister, Midge, in 1953. Dad sat on the couch and described her in her oxygen tent in the hospital, reaching out her arms toward him, and saying, “Daddy, help me.” He said that he went out in the hall and pounded on the wall with his fists. “I could do nothing,” he said. As he told me the story, he repeatedly slapped his forehead, not gently, but hard, crying. I finally took his hand and told him to stop hitting himself.

In 2006, I invited Dad to move to California, figuring that he was, as I put it, “past his expiration date.” The cardiovascular surgeon who operated on him in 1999 here in Tacoma had projected that the surgery would give him lasting relief for only about five years. Then he expected that Dad’s heart disease would likely end his life.

The ensuing seven years after Dad moved down were transformative, for Dad and for me. I listened as he worked through the most important experiences in his life. His love of Mom. The War. The Loss of Midge. His difficult relationship with his father. His love of his mother. Like all of us, he had regrets or things he never understood.

He softened. When I once commented that he seemed to have become more gentle and less judgmental as he aged, he said, “Who am I to judge?”

Perhaps my father’s biggest challenge was his final one – the grueling march of his final years.

His physical abilities were seared away by time. He lost his hearing. His balance faltered. His chest pain increased. His breathing became strained. It was brutal to watch.

What remained was Henry, distilled and pure. He loved red roses, which represented his love of Mom, and for several years after Mom died, he sent them to his favorite women: Ann Palmer, his daughters in law, his niece Louise and great-niece Mary, and me. He still loved chocolate and enjoyed his last bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce the evening before he died.

He still cared about the future of the nation, and voted in his 19th presidential election last year. He still loved and worried about his adult children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I asked him once, “Do you ever stop worrying?” and he said, “No, never.”

I said this was a love story, and it is. On the day my father died, he was agitated. His time was near, though we did not guess how near. At about 11 a.m., Maddie comforted him by reading poetry from the little book I created of his favorite poetry, “Henry’s Passages.” She read Longfellow, and Shelley, and, of course, Shakespearian sonnets.

Around 3 p.m., after being unresponsive most of the day, Dad suddenly smiled. And shortly before 6 p.m., his eyebrows lifted, as if he was seeing someone who delighted him. And his lips began moving as if he were speaking to that person. Dean and I felt that he was seeing Mom.

Dad’s breathing suddenly changed at about 6 p.m., Dean held Dad’s hand, and I started reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, which was the last sonnet Dad recited from memory, several days before. Then his breathing slowed, and finally stopped.

Henry Snively Campbell – loving friend, son, brother, uncle, husband, grandfather, great grandfather, father-in-law and father — died in a state of love, which is to say, a state of grace.”

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With Love, to the Last Breath

roses

At 6 p.m. tonight, Dad took his last breath as my brother Dean told him that he loved him, and as I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, one of Dad’s favorites. To understand why my Dad loved that particular sonnet so much, you have to appreciate how he “fought for his pants” every day of day of his wonderful marriage to my mother. Not long before he died, his eyebrows lifted up, the way they would when he saw someone who delighted him, and his lips moved as if he were speaking to them.

Dad, this is for you and Mom, thanks to the Bard:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

Their love was rare, and they are together again. But, dear Dad, I will miss you.

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Too much love?

Can you imagine this image as an older parent? It’s not how we think about our role as caregivers, is it? (courtesy Teach Through Love)

Our first instinct as parents is to surround our children in a cocoon of love that cushions them against hurts both physical and emotional. But eventually, we find out that we do our children no favors if we never let them struggle.

I am learning that being a caregiver for an aging parent is not that different.

Since I moved my father to California in 2006, he’s spent the majority of the time at my house. He has his own bedroom with a cushy La-Z-Boy, television and bathroom. After giving up the family house where he lived from 1969 to 2003, I wanted him to feel this was home. At the same time, I wanted to know I could leave town and trust that he would be secure, with all of the support services he needs. So he’s had a one bedroom apartment in a nice assisted living community.

The back-and-forth worked just fine until July, when his health became unstable. Although he is now almost fully recovered, his emotional health continues to suffer.

My mother, during the final stages of lung cancer, expressed fear of dying, despite the deep faith that sustained her for so many years. My father wondered why, if there is a God, would he abandon my mother in her hour of need? Now it is my father who fears dying – and, in particular, dying alone.

Ten days ago, he asked me, “Can I come live with you?” He continued, “Living alone is no way to live. I’m afraid to die alone.”

Using my strategic planning skills, it seemed to me that we had to revisit Dad’s living situation. My objective, and that of my brothers, is to ensure that Dad lives with as little physical and emotional distress as possible. To that I had to add an objective about meeting the needs of my own family — oh, and taking care of myself, too.

It seemed to me that there were three possible solutions: 1) Dad would come to live with me full-time; 2) we continue to muddle through with more companion services at his apartment on the days that I am not available; or 3) we limit the number of nights that Dad stays at my house because of his increased distress when he has to return to his apartment.

I sought input from a social worker, a mentor, our home church pastor, his doctor, and a psychologist. Along the way I also had Dad evaluated for hospice and found out that he’s not close to qualifying for that type of end-of-life care. I had to start thinking about what would be best for a period of gradual decline that could last for several years – something I never imagined given that Dad has had three heart attacks, three strokes and three open heart bypass surgeries.

I also had to “listen” to myself. I realized I felt overwhelmed by the possibility of Dad moving in full-time. I really want that to happen, but now isn’t the right time. My Dad isn’t the only one who needs me right now.  I had to admit to myself that I felt exhausted.

The social worker shared a little tough love with me. She said, “He is distressed about the prospect of going back to his apartment because it isn’t ‘home.’ And it isn’t home because you won’t let it be home. He spends enough time at your house that the transition is difficult. He doesn’t remember exactly what happens there and it feels unsafe to him to return.” She went on, “As family members, you’re responsible for providing the caring, but not necessarily the care.”

My beloved mentor Jim offered this advice:

This is very hard to do: separate what is in his best interest and his care needs from your heart duty as a loving daughter.  Like most elders in his situation, he is becoming more child like — likes what he likes and won’t budge; wants his mommy really to take care of him although he would not recognize that is what he is doing to you.  If he does move in and a caregiver is part of the team, you will have to force him to agree to let that caregiver do his/her thing.  You almost have to write out a ‘contract’ that he has to agree to.  Obviously it is not a legal thing, but you use it to force him to focus on reality when he just wants it all to be different and for you to be there constantly.

My church home pastor suggested that I facilitate a casual visit with a priest. “Throw him a lifeline,” he suggested. “He may choose not to talk about his concerns about death, but he may be ready to talk.” And my psychologist friend suggested having Dad evaluated for anti-depressants. His doctor agrees that may be worth trying.

So what was decided? I had a conference call with my brothers last Wednesday night and we decided to try out an arrangement where Dad is limited to three nights a week at my house. I’ve visited him at his apartment every day and joined him for lunch to reinforce the message that the staff knows him and is paying attention.

He doesn’t love it, but he is responding to the message that there are some things I need to do right now to take care of my family and myself. He asks how he can help, and I say, “Just be patient, Dad, and be supportive when I can’t be here.”

Week one went well, but the big test will come this weekend when I leave town for three days… Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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Real emotions from a real man

Dad started singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” today at the kitchen table, and as always, he choked up.

“It was a terrible war,” he said. “They all are.”

Then he went on to say, “I’m a sentimental man. But it’s real. I mean it.”

I know Dad means it. I’ve known it for a long time. In a strange bit of juxtaposition, today I came across a letter I wrote to my Dad when I was 22. I was very, very angry at him for an argument we had. It ended badly, with him physically throwing me out of his room when I stood my ground. In retaliation, I took his car and drove very, very fast around the Olympic peninsula, returning to my parents’ home in the wee hours of the morning. (Like that was really intelligent.)

I wrote:

A long time ago, I wrote an essay about myself. I found myself struggling with words to describe you, and to describe my feelings about you. I kept coming up with metaphors about rocks — things that reflected both strength and immovability. And no one would question that you are both of those things.

Somehow, Dad, it is different growing up as your daughter and not as your son. For all the femininity that is within me, I am still as strong and independent as my brothers – a person quite capable of standing on her own two feet. To accept this in a son, I believe, is less difficult than to accept it in me. Perhaps it is for this reason that years of feelings welled up inside me as we spoke tonight, and I realized I needed to be accepted, in the same way my brothers are respected, once and for all….

I understand your strength. I understand your pride, and that you cannot show weakness most of all to me. I see the softness and warmth that you have as a father. But I have never seen the side of you that could say to me, ‘I am wrong,’ or ‘I am sorry.’

Tonight, however, just for once in my 22 years, I needed to hear something. I needed to hear something other than ‘dismissed.’

I believe you rejected me tonight because for the first time in my life I was terribly insubordinate to you. I said no.

I love you but I have always been afraid of you. Part of my growing up and turning twenty-two was finally fighting this love-fear feeling about my father. “They” say some things like this are never gotten over, but I’m not writing a psych book and I could care less what anyone else has to say about my need for ‘reaffirmation.’

…Do you know how much it meant to me when you said you wanted to take me fishing and just to talk to me this summer? I guess that was the first time you had ever really wanted to sit down and share those words of wisdom with me that I have always imagined you have with my brothers. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as the day you asked me about going fishing.

This is the grown-up me that you may not always notice, Dad. It isn’t the woman that you and Mom have often doubted would have enough love — unselfish love — to be happy in marriage. This is the me that my friends have come to know, the one that has a lot of love to give, but needs it in return, too.

I need to hear that you could say you were sorry. I need, just once, to see that side of you. And I’m sorry, but I’m not sure why. I just know it’s a fact.

You may not like me very well after you read this letter. You may be able to dismiss it, or say I’m upset, or say I’m trying to fight you. I’m not, however, doing any of those things. With every once of love in my heart, I’m showing you everything that’s there. And Dad, that more than anything else demonstrates my tremendous love and trust and admiration for you.

Please don’t take this letter as any form of criticism. Take it as what it is — just a very big step in your daughter’s final transition into adult and womanhood.”

How did the story end? My Dad said he was sorry. He showed me the love and respect I so desperately needed then. Our relationship changed forever.

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